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A FEW WORDS ON THE FIRST EPISTLE
Rich and deep secrets of the divinest character are to be found in this epistle.
At the opening of it, the Lord is called “the Word of life,” because He is the manifestation of the life. He has shewn life to us.
In His person, St. John heard it, looked on it, handled it.
It has also been imparted to us. In the power of the Holy Ghost, we have been given to receive it from the source of it.
In its nature, or essence, it is infallible, or indestructi5!ble
, beyond the reach of the sting of death. It is here called that eternal life." Unlike the life that was in Adam, who was "the living soul," which was to be tested; and which, as we know, was lost in the struggle, this life of Him, who is “the quickening Spirit,” is invulnerable, and has so proved itself by resurrection. For resurrection is life in victory."
But further. This life clothes itself, if I may so express my thoughts, with relationship. It puts itself into relationship. And what would life, even human life, be without that? Were we to live in mere individuality, life would be but existence. But we share a life that is common, and stand related to one another. And so, this eternal life. It was, as we read here, “ with the Father"-and, as we read again, it introduces us into " fellowship.” “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ." It introduces us as children, thus putting us into nearest relationship to God; and this is our fulness of joy—as we still further
· Deeply and fully do I own the verity of His manhood. He was “the Seed of the woman.” He partook of flesh and blood with the children. God and Man in one Person. All depends on this.
read here; “ these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”
We may be weak and sickly. The workings of unbelief, the force of lust and vanity, the fiery darts of the enemy, may cause various distempers in the soul; but the due condition or attribute of this life, thus introducing us to the relationship and fellowship of children, is nothing less than fulness of joy.
And further still. This life has its moral qualities, as well as its nature or essence, and its relationship. It is undefileable, as well as eternal. The possession of it is our moral restoration. “ The Son of God was manifested, to take away our sin, and in him is no sin.” The message which He, who is this life, brings to us, is this, “ God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” And this is the contradiction of that word which the serpent, the liar, brought to the ear of Eve. He told Eve, that as to God, there was no light at all in Him, neither truth nor love. The Son, the Life, tells us that there is nothing but light in Him; and that to have fellowship with Him, we must ourselves walk in light. And this is our moral recovery-not, however, perfect as yet-for "if we say, that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” But then, the Son, who has this life for us—this secret of moral recovery, has also remedy for this lack of perfection, and we are to use Him. We are to confess our sins, and God is faithful to the Son our Saviour-just to that work of His which has accomplished reconciliationto forgive us our sins.
And though it be indeed true, that this moral restoration is not now perfect in unhindered power in the soul, and that we have still sins to confess, yet is it complete in the range or sphere of its influence. That is, it heals us not only as towards God, but as towards one another. It brings us back into the light, and it makes us to love one another. The moral power of it is the contradiction of both Adam and Cain. . Adam, in Gen. iii., represents the ruined nature in relation to God, forcing him into distance and darkness; Cain, in Gen. iv., represents the same ruined nature in relation to our fellow-creatures.
But now, through the virtue of this life, we walk in the light, and we love one another.
All this is told us in the early parts of this epistle. And it is a great discourse. The life in its own eternal infallible essence, in its known and enjoyed relationship, and in its various restoring moral virtues, is the subject of it.
Fathers, young men, and little children, are also severally addressed, addressed, too, in reference to this life, or to Him who has it in Himself for us.
The fathers make Christ their object. They, as it were, gaze at Him, consider Him, learn Him, understand Him.
The young men make Him, and the life they have received from Him, their strength, using it in conflict with the world, that scene, which "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," are animating
The little children make Christ, this life, their joy, knowing the Father through Him—knowing Him for themselves, in the free and happy spirit of adoption.
Surely, this exhibits beautiful, varied, moral power in the soul, by reason of this life. And as connected with the condition of the “ little children," John introduces a warning against that form of the lie, or that Antichrist, which denies “the Father and the Son." And this is most suitable and seasonable. Because the standing or condition of the “ little children,” altogether depends on that mystery. They are in the adoption; they know the Father; they enjoy it, as I said. But this is taken away from them, by that lie or antichrist which denies the Father and the Son. Relationship is lost to us then. The soul is robbed of it. Another lie, at the beginning, robbed Adam of his innocency; this lie rohs the little children of their joy. How rightly, therefore, are they warned against it.
It is said to some one, in another place, “ Hold that fast which thou hast
, that no man take thy crown.” And, in like spirit
, John would here tell the children to hold fast what they had, that no lie should take their joy from
This epistle takes us back, in spirit and in recollection, to the first chapters of Genesis. Indeed, John is, generally, independent of all merely dispensational truth, and is intensely personal and individualising.
Genesis opens with Creation. This epistle, like the gospel by the same Evangelist, with Him that was before creation. In the system of creation, man, and all things with him, or under him, were in life, order, and beauty. Death was then the foreign thing, and consequently it was the threatened thing. The revelation or proclamation that was made in the midst of all that scene of life, and order, and beauty, was about death.
In the present evil world, we have death, the wages of sin, manifested. The earth has become the grave of its inhabitants. Sin reigns unto death upon it. Life is, .therefore, the foreign and proclaimed thing—and this epistle tells us so. Life is to be received by us, dead as we are in trespasses and sins; as death, on the other hand, was incurred by Adam in his estate of life and perfection. We are now summoned to hear words of truth from the Son of the Father, as Adam heard and received the lie from the serpent. We have to acquaint ourselves with “ the Word of life," personally and immediately, as Eve acquainted herself personally and intimately with the Tree of death, when she took it and ate of it (see Gen. iii. 6). That acceptance of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil gave Adam fellowship with death in all its sorrowing, degrading results.
He lost the garden, and Eve, and God-everything. He lost himself. A disturbed conscience; the apron of figo leaves; the covert of the trees; the sword of the cherubim; all tell the ruinous details of his condition. Acceptance of “the Word of life,” according to this epistle, recovers everything, and everything, lost though it may have been, and lost as it was, with unspeakable advantage. We get God in the relation of a father. We get ourselves in fulness of joy. We get one another as brethren. We get inheritance, as in glory. All is now ours, in incorruptible, unassailable, victorious, abiding virtue. We feed on meat taken from the eater, and sweetness gathered out of the strong one.
Thus is it with us in Christ. And after this manner it is, that this epistle, as I have already hinted, keeps us in company, in spirit, and in remembrance, with the earliest chapters of Genesis. It all but closes the volume; but it links itself, morally, with the opening of it.
There are, however, other thoughts that arise in the soul, on reading this epistle, which I would also communicate-in no way, of course, contradictory of what I hare suggested above; nay, in no measure, even the slightest, interfering there with; but still of another kind.
This cpistle may be said to exhibit the power of communion to leave upon the soul the impression of the object with which the communion has been enjoyed.
There are, consequently, three principal thoughts found again and again in it; and these are, manifestation, communion, impression. That is, the Lord is manifested in some form or character; the believer has communion with Him as so manifested; a kindred impression is thereby left on the believer's soul..
This is simple. The epistle opens with a declaration of this manifestation. And the interpretation that is made of that manifestation is this, that it gives the soul communion or fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ; and it is then further declared, that the result of this upon the soul, the impression produced by this commumon is, fulness of joy (i.1-4).
This is a sample of what, as I judge, is a great leading character of the whole epistle, and as I have already suggested. Here we find our object manifested, a certain communion with that object, and then a corresponding impression
produced. So again. The object manifested is declared to be "light"; and accordingly, it is at once denied that there
any communion with that object, if our walk be still in “darkness" (1.5, 6).
Then, quite in accordance with what I have suggested, it is said, '" he that saith he abideth in Him, ought himself so to walk even as He walked. 66 And in conse